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Santa Ynez Valley Union High School students stage walkout following crosswalk controversy

Santa Ynez
Posted at 5:05 PM, Apr 12, 2023

Dozens of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School students walked out of class Wednesday as part of a demonstration accusing school administrators of being exclusive toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Roughly three weeks ago, as part of the high school’s “No Place for Hate Week,” students received approval to have school crosswalks painted rainbow colors in support of their LGBTQ+ peers.

However, just three days later, students were shocked when the crosswalks were suddenly repainted white with no explanation provided.

“I was really excited when I heard they had been put there, and when I heard of them being taken away, it really let me down,” said student Ash Hicks.

“We felt terrible. I mean, when you are seeing something like that happen, it is a direct dig at our community, and I felt my entire heart sink when I saw them painting over,” added Charley Hrehor, co-president of Santa Ynez High School’s Gay Straight Alliance.

Hrehor says in late March, Principal Michael Niehoff allowed the rainbow crosswalks to be painted in the school’s parking lot for the entirety of their “No Place for Hate Week.”

Students protesting Wednesday say they still have not been given an answer as to why the crosswalks were prematurely repainted white.

“We were never given a clear, definite reason why this occurred, but we do know that it was because of a lot of backlash happening in the community,” Hrehor told KSBY. “And we feel that the school’s choice in painting over the crosswalks was not right and was not for the better of our students.”

“To be an environment that is protective to students, and when you bend at any kickback from parents, from students, what are you doing?” added Vera Sieck, who also serves as co-president of the school's Gay Straight Alliance.

During Wednesday’s walkout, dozens of students stood together in front of the administration building calling for their voices to be heard and holding signs demanding change at the school.

“I am hoping it will help make LGBTQ students less of a taboo topic and more of something we can talk about,” said student Bee Melby.

“To me, this shows how together we are, and if we stand together, how big of a force we can be and how much change we can create,” added student Hayden Elliott.

“It is not just a few people who think that change needs to happen," Hrehor added. "It is dozens of students and even more who aren’t out here today but believe in this. Change is necessary at this school, and it has not occurred yet.”

Principal Niehoff declined an interview but sent KSBY a statement, saying, "My goal as principal is to create an environment that builds trusting and connected relationships between students, staff and parents. I recognize the importance of the high school being a welcoming and supportive place for all students. I recognize how important events and activities are that promote a school free from harassment, bullying and discrimination and I support student voice in bringing about positive change on campus. I have encouraged our students to continue to work on ways to move forward positively and will continue to work to find ways to do better and to do what's right for all students."

Students involved in Wednesday’s demonstration say they are also calling for mandatory inclusivity training for all Santa Ynez Valley Union High School staff.